Last updated: February 19. 2013 1:46AM - 481 Views

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A better-government crusader has filed a formal complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of State asking for its legal counsel to review the 2011 annual financial statement for the Friends of Bob Mellow campaign.

Gene Stilp, a Wilkes-Barre native who now lives in Middle Paxton Township, Dauphin County, filed the paperwork this morning asking for a full review and investigation into whether state campaign finance laws were broken.

He said he‚??s no expert on the law and isn‚??t making any judgment on what the campaign records show, but in his opinion ‚??I believe a complaint is warranted.‚?Ě

‚??I‚??m filing this to get the wheels of government in motion,‚?Ě Stilp said. ‚??(The campaign report) raises many questions.‚?Ě

Of concern to Stilp are a handful of legal expenditures made by the campaign that supports the retired former Senate Majority Leader from Peckville. According to the campaign financial report filed in January, $738,114 had been sent to law firms in Scranton and Philadelphia last year:

‚?Ę Scranton attorney Sal Cognetti, of the Foley, Cognetti, Comerford, Cimini & Cummins law firm, was paid $700,000 on April 28 as a legal retainer;
‚?Ę A total of $13,114 ‚?? with payments made on Feb. 8, March 26 and again on May 13 ‚?? was sent to the Philadelphia firm of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker and Rhoads for legal services rendered;
‚?Ę $25,000 was sent to Philadelphia attorney Christopher D. Warren as a legal retainer on May 23.

Ronald G. Ruman, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of State, previously said that his office is not permitted to give legal or advisory opinions on campaign finance reports and what spending is allowed.

He said the state code should guide committees.

Legal expenses are a permitted expense under campaign finance law in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Code states: ‚??Expenses, legal counsel, incurred in good faith in connection with any primary or elections.‚?Ě

Stilp is challenging whether Mellow‚??s expenditures meet those requirements.

Whether Mellow, who retired at the end of 2010 after representing his Northeastern Pennsylvania district for 40 years, could spend money on legal fees in a year he is not running would be a determination for department lawyers. But they wouldn‚??t get involved unless a citizen filed a complaint.

That‚??s why Stilp said he‚??s acting.

Ruman said that if someone were to file a complaint questioning the report‚??s legality, his office would review it. If a violation was found, it would be forwarded to the Attorney General‚??s Office for review. He said his office is not permitted to acknowledge whether a complaint was received or if a violation was forwarded to the attorney general.

Stilp, who is also a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, hoping to unseat Rep. Lou Barletta in the 11th District, said he wasn't about to let his duties as a government watchdog fall by the wayside as he campaigns.

"You can't stop being a citizen just because you're in a campaign," Stilp said.
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